The hard truth about eczema: it's something in the water

Hard water damages protective skin barrier

Photo: Shutterstock

Photo: Shutterstock

Exposing our skin to hard water damages the skin barrier which acts as our defence against outside threats such as bacteria or sun-burn.

The exposure increases the sensitivity of the skin to everyday wash and beauty products, according to a new study from the University of Sheffield and King's College London. The study, which Harvey Water Softeners was asked to fund, was published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.

A new study from the University of Sheffield and King's College London showed that hard water contains high levels of calcium and magnesium ions that bind to particles in soap, causing them to stay on the skin causing irritation.

Skin pH is normally acidic but hard water has high alkalinity which means it can raise the skin surface pH.  A shift towards alkaline pH disturbs the skin's natural function as a physical barrier and leaves it prone to exposure of harmful bacteria which can cause infection.

Dr Simon Danby from the University of Sheffield's Department of Infection, Immunity and Cardiovascular Disease, said: "By damaging the skin barrier, washing with hard water may contribute to the development of eczema".

Symptoms of eczema (also called 'atopic eczema' or 'atopic dermatitis') include inflamed, dry itchy skin and often secondary skin infections, which can affect any part of the body and every aspect of a person's life - both physically and emotionally.

"One in five children and one in 12 adults in the UK suffer from eczema, costing the NHS over £500 million annually," said Dr Carsten Flohr from St John's Institute of Dermatology at Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust and King's College London.

"It is during the first few days and months of life that our skin is most susceptible to damage and most at risk of developing eczema."

The team of researchers examined whether removing the calcium and magnesium ions using an ion-exchange water softener could halt the negative effects. They found that using a water softener reduces the harmful effects of surfactants, potentially decreasing the risk of developing eczema.

Managing director of Harvey Water Softeners, Martin Hurworth, said: "The link between hard water and eczema has been reported for years - now for the first time there's scientific proof. We were pleased to provide industry support to this study."

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